Film Review: Drive (2011)

“It’s the new Taxi Driver!”, someone said enthusiastically as the credits rolled at the press screening of Drive. Time will tell if this film eventually earns its place alongside the true classic, like the Scorsese classic, but for now one thing is sure: Drive is a film that quite simply does everything right. It’s a near-flawless neo-noir, unafraid to venture into very intense and at times risky territory, narratively as well as stylistically. This, in the hands of a lesser director, might have gone very wrong indeed, however, Nicolas Winding Refn’s award-winning direction confidently balances all these different elements, consistently striking the right tone.

Drive follows the story of an unnamed young man, referred to in the film’s credits simply as the Driver (a perfectly-cast Ryan Gosling delivering a cool and magnetic performance). During the day he works as a stunt driver for Hollywood action films, but at night he puts his incredible driving skills to an altogether more unorthodox use, deep in the criminal underworld below the surface of a glitzy and glamorous Los Angeles. He is a getaway driver for hire, using his deep knowledge of the LA streets to whisk criminals away from their crime scenes, often from under the very eyes of the Los Angeles police. The Driver’s mentor, as well as his agent for both the daytime and night time activities, is Shannon (a compelling Bryan Cranston, whose character in Drive is light-years away from his turn as the gormless dad in Malcolm in the Middle), who has ambitious plans for the Driver, believing he can make it big in the professional racing circuit. In order to get the investment funds he requires, Shannon becomes dangerously involved with members of the East Coast mafia, particularly Bernie Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman, who revel in their particularly egregious characters), who realise the Driver’s potential.

While the Driver himself is a lone wolf, keeping himself far removed from society, he begins to develop a special affection for his next door neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan revealing yet another side of incredible talent) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). When Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, the Driver gets involved in helping him rob a pawnshop so he can clear his debts with the mob, and look after his family. As he waits to drive Standard away from the scene of the heist, everything goes terribly wrong, and the Driver ends up on the run with Standard’s heist partner Blanche (Christina Hendricks), as he is pursued by Standard’s former bosses on one side, and gets caught up in the murky business of Shannon’s involvement with the mafia on the other.

Besides the solid performances and the very tight storyline, Drive boasts gorgeous cinematography, as well as an awesome soundtrack, both of which give the film a decidedly 80s look and feel. I’ll resist the temptation to describe Drive as a “thrill-ride of a movie”, if anything because I’m sure many others will say just that anyway. Instead, I’ll say it is effortlessly cool, breathlessly fast-paced, and immensely enjoyable. Drive has all the makings of a future cult classic, and it is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.


Thriller, Crime | USA, 2011 | 18 | cinema | 23rd September, 2011 (UK) | Icon Film Distribution |Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn| Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks